The dominant model used in the treatment of addiction is based on the premise that an addict’s brain is diseased. However, neuroscientist, developmental psychologist, and former drug addict Marc Lewis shines new light on the topic of addiction in his new book The Biology of Desire, Why Addiction is Not a Disease — and contests these common perspectives.
In his book, Lewis talks about addiction from a different angle, drawing on scientific views and personal biographies to challenge the current model of addiction — which employs a medical approach to treat the “disease” of addiction.
Instead of understanding addiction as an illness, Lewis illustrates that:
Brain changes occurring in addiction are the result of accelerated learning — a natural cognitive process.
To illustrate this idea, you can use a common social scenario, such as being in love. If you are in the early stages of a romantic relationship, you will be very focused on the significant other, thinking of them often.
As a result, neural pathways will be laid down as you learn about, bond, and build a relationship with this individual. You could say that your brain is becoming wired to accommodate this relationship in your life. And as time passes, these pathways become deeper as an embedded connection, or attachment, is formed. This process is very natural, and plays an important role in human social belonging.
Hence, when the relationship comes to an end, you feel the deep hurt of loss, and are a little lost for a while — the very thing your brain is wired to focus on is no longer present.
However, as Lewis points out, in biological terms, addiction is a very natural process for survival’s sake and has its reasons. On the other hand, addiction can also be detrimental if the subject of desire is a destructive substance, person, or habit.
In this video, Marc Lewis discusses why addiction is currently viewed as a disease in the medical world, due to the brain-changes that occur.
However, Lewis points out that neuro-plasticity is an area of research that is sparking much interest in neuroscience — which is changing the way we understand how our brains function.
If we think about recovering stroke victims or taxi drivers who must memorize the streets of massive sprawling cities without getting lost, we can see that our brains are capable of changing, adapting, and learning in incredible ways, and ways we thought were not possible.
As science evolves to uncover more secrets of the human brain, we will no doubt begin to understand our intelligence in new ways.
What is paramount in this perspective is that people living with addiction can feel encouraged to know that it is possible to remold their plastic brains and triumph over their addiction. Although this is a massive challenge for all, and is never simple — it appears to be a path of self-empowerment.